Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has defended his government’s position to not enforce stricter COVID-19 restrictions while allowing the reopening of schools across the country, amidst the current spike in infections of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which was first detected on the island towards the end of last month.
During this week’s post-Cabinet media briefing in St. George’s, Health officials revealed that persons under the age of 18, make up 11.5% of the 2551 active cases recorded as of Tuesday, with 1, 836 COVID-19 tests being conducted on Monday, which represents the largest number of COVID-19 tests to be conducted in one day since testing began on the island.
The COVID-19 infection rate on the island stood at 26.7% on Tuesday, with a test positivity rate of 26.7%.
Responding to questions surrounding the government’s rationale to not impose further restrictions at this time during a live press conference in St. George’s on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mitchell said this is not necessary at this time, as although Omicron has been spreading quickly, it has not been as severe as the Delta variant, which has led to hospitalisations and death during the first wave which occurred less than five (5) months ago.
“We have to deal with the consequences of restrictions on the society as a whole, and if life is not in danger as it used to be, the question, therefore, is putting additional restriction, and creating more trauma in the society psychologically, is it worth it? That’s the question that we have to answer, and my view is it is not worth it at this time,” PM Mitchell told reporters.
The Grenadian leader who also acknowledged that several teachers have also been affected by the coronavirus, and the potential threat to the education process if teachers remain unvaccinated and cases among them continue to increase.
He also used the opportunity to reiterate his government’s position that vaccination is the only way to prevent major medical problems.
“Hopefully the trend of infection in teachers would slow considerably because every person and every teacher has to accept personal responsibility for his health, and therefore teachers being vaccinated is, clearly, something that has to happen. Similarly, students with their parent’s support have to obey protocols as best as possible,” he said.
“Clearly, we will be able to find some substitute teachers but if we have a massive infection, I don’t see how we would be able to have that amount of substitute teachers to deal with physical presence in the classroom. So, it means that we may have to go back to, if it reaches a point of crisis, to virtual teaching again,” he added.
PM Mitchell who previously avowed not to pass mandatory COVID-19 vaccination laws in the country told reporters that “getting children vaccinated is (also) a challenge that we have to meet.”
He expressed “sympathy for young people in this very crucial time (because) they are not getting what we got, the social interaction that all of us had and the fun that we had meeting our friends and so it’s tough.
“So, we just have to do all that we have to do…what we have to do is do all that we can to protect our children (and) teachers,” he remarked.
Senior Medical Officer, Dr. Myanna Charles, who also addressed the press briefing was not in a position to provide figures for the number of students testing positive for COVID-19.
However, she provided an update on the COVID-19 situation in the country disclosing that “almost 1,600 students have been vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Shawn Charles, who also addressed Tuesday’s post-cabinet briefing maintained his support for the reopening of schools at this time citing the negative impact of the 2-year disruption in the full-blown education of students.
Noting that “we have enough vaccines to vaccinate all of those individuals out there to protect themselves,” CMO Charles emphasised that “health is not just the absence of disease, the absence of COVID.”
“We have to think about the holistic health of students, and formal education, face-to-face education is a very important part of this so the question is – do we risk our children’s future…or do we start the process of us all adapting to live with this virus and to thrive despite the existence of this virus…?
“We know that the business sector has adapted – many businesses were closed earlier on in COVID, now everyone is doing everything in their power to ensure that they keep their doors open. So, this is what we expect for education – this is just the most recent sector that needs to adapt to the new reality that we are living in…”
Health Minister Nickolas Steele also addressed Tuesday’s media event and echoed the CMO’s sentiments stating: “…We need to give our children the best weapons to fight this disease. We need to ensure that our children get back to school as quickly as possible with as little risk as possible and that is by ensuring that our children and our teachers and support staff are vaccinated so that we can continue life with a disease that is becoming endemic.”